Actor learns the basics from father of food truck movement
During the closing credits of “Chef,” Jon Favreau and Roy Choi are huddled over a griddle, pushing and flipping a sandwich until its buttered bread is golden brown and its melted cheese oozes out the sides.
The kitchen outtake was part of a months-long culinary crash course that Favreau, the writer, director and star of “Chef,” studied at the hands of Choi, the Los Angeles chef credited with jumpstarting the food truck movement.
To prepare Favreau for his role as Carl Casper, a critically clobbered West Coast chef who gets his groove back by slinging Cuban sandwiches from a food truck, Choi taught him everything from kitchen rituals and rhythms to knife cuts and cooking techniques.
“All that we do in cooking is built on basic foundations, the rest is attention to details, and Jon understands that 100 percent,” Choi said in a telephone interview this week from Los Angeles. “In order to create fancy food, we have to know how to make basic food.
“Even the most respected chefs in my industry, we judge all our cooks on whether they can make a basic omelet,” he continued. “A grilled cheese is very similar. You can think about every grilled cheese sandwich you ate in your life, and then try this one, where we paid attention to the details. That makes all the difference.”
Miami makes an extended cameo in the film, which opens Friday, May 16. Favreau finds inspiration over a meal at Versailles with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), and he and his sous chef (John Leguizamo) fire up their food truck for the first time in South Beach.
Choi said Favreau’s hunger for culinary knowledge impressed him, though he acknowledged initially having butterflies at the thought of training the “Swingers” star and “Iron Man” director.
“As soon as we stepped in to the kitchen together that all flew out the window because he had such a desire to learn,” Choi said. “I talk rapid-fire, and Jon would just absorb it all like a sponge and then be like give me more, give me more.”
Aside from restaurant-kitchen lessons, Choi also had to teach Favreau the skills of a food-truck chef. Choi, a Culinary Institute of America-trained cook, rose to prominence by serving Korean-Mexican fusion street food from his Kogi BBQ Taco truck.
He said food trucks are underappreciated by many in the restaurant world. Choi, who also has several restaurants under his belt, contends that operating a food truck is in many ways harder than running a restaurant, something he tried to convey to Favreau.
“In restaurants, we have so many ways to capture your attention: the music we play, the flowers we put on the table, the hostess who seats you, the silverware we put in your hand, the multiple courses we feed you,” Choi said. “But with a food truck, I’ve got one shot. If I don’t hook you on the first bite, I’m f-----. That’s pressure.”